It is not possible to eat inside a Japanese elementary school (if you're a tourist) but there is a place in Tokyo where you can try nearly everything. Japanese parents take their preschool kids here to try it as well as older people coming back for a taste of nostalgia.
This magical place is called KYUSHOKU TOBAN (給食当番 ) and it's a place where you can not only try some of Japan's regional school foods from all over the country, you can also do it in an elementary school classroom! The 2nd floor is a near exact replication.
If you've ever wanted to be an exchange student in Japan -- or return to 5th grade, here's your chance.
Unique Japanese School Lunch MENU Items:
★ AGEPAN: Fried baked bun covered in sugar and kinako (or other toppings like cinnamon or cocoa)
★ SOFTMEN: A special noodle served only in schools. It comes wrapped in plastic and should be dipped in meat sauce or stew.
★ WHALE: This was served in schools a long time ago because whale was more available and much cheaper than beef, chicken or pork. Today, it's no longer served in school but you can try some at izakayas around Tokyo and here at this restaurant. Whale is rarely eaten these days since the price of other fish and meats is significantly cheaper.
WHY ARE JAPANESE SCHOOL LUNCHES SO AMAZING?
The program is highly regulated with calorie intake and nutritional value set for each scheduled meal.
Ingredients are usually local and meals are prepared from scratch.
There are no cafeterias in Japanese elementary schools. (They exist in high schools.)
Kids eat their lunches in the classroom with the teacher. They learn about nutrition and food responsibility in a hands on setting.
Milk is served with every meal.
All students eat the same meal. If a student hates an item, they have to stay and finish it.
Parents pay monthly for the school lunches, about $40 to $60 a month.
The Japanese School Lunch program started in 1954. After World War 2, resources were scarce and the government tried to make sure every child had a balanced meal.
Before World War 2, kids brought their own bento. The usual school food back then was the NORIBEN, rice, bonito fish flakes and roasted seaweed on a metal lunch box. Milk was a luxury item and there were few vegetables.